Torah Study Notes 8-18-12

August 18, 2012
NOTICE TO READERS OF THESE TORAH STUDYPOSTS: The text submitted here is unedited. Corrections and comments are welcome. Generally, the initials shown are an attempt to credit the individual who made a particular point or responded to it. “PG” is Rabbi Paul Golomb. Page references are to Plaut. It is assumed that the reader is familiar with the text.

This is one of the three most interesting Torah portions in Deuteronomy. Here we are dealing with the issue of the social wheel – societal welfare. This is a repetition to some extent to the end of Leviticus but here the emphasis is on the remission of debt.
p. 1269
15:1 “Every seventh year you shall practice remission of debts.” SF: Who is being lent to? If to family or tribe there is an implied obligation to consider their welfare. PG: Generally, laws governing proper behavior in society fall upon the tribesman and alien alike. But here we are told differently. “you may dun the foreigner..” Note that the debt is remitted in the same year that the land is left fallow. This is per a pre-established calendar. There may be a relationship between land and loans. But loans are probably not always money – that is an anachronistic notion since money is never even listed or noted in the Torah as existing. The word “zuz´ means “move” which is the concept behind money. Temple weights and measure are mentioned frequently but they could be weighing grain. Even the word “shekel” refer to a specific weight. This is a barter system. So a loan may be of land, grain, metal, or other commodity. There are also references to a “pledge” for a loan. In an agrarian society the loan of seed is probably the most common. Accordingly, if a foreigner comes and asks for a loan of seed they are on a different land cycle than one’s neighbors. It would be irrational to forgive a loan which cannot be paid in the normal course of events. AF: Also, the foreigner is not obligated to follow the Torah. SF: This could also be advantageous to the lender – who can receive payment from the foreigner when the lenders land lies fallow.
15:4 “There shall be no needy among you…” SF: There is an implied obligation of charity here. PG: But one must follow the instructions of Torah in order to obtain this blessing. This is part of what makes a stable, productive and happy society. For the most part the instruction of Torah has to do with how we relate to other individuals. Much of this is emotionally tough in terms of keeping all of these rules. Life impinges and actually prevents us from following the rules. It’s like putting one’s mind at ease on Shabbat – almost impossible. The example of walking past a wall that needs repair and you think about it. It would mean you could never repair the wall because that would turn what you did on Shabbat into forbidden work. This is why there are many books about keeping Shabbat. LL: Are we being taunted by being told of an unobtainable goal? PG: No, It is like an Olympian striving to an ideal. DC: It makes me angry that the Orthodox spend so much time thinking about how one gets around the rules and at the same time pretend to be holy. PG: There is a tipping point at which efforts to keep the rules become something else.
15:7 Open your hand to the needy in your land. SF: The hard part is to have faith that there will be a reward for this good conduct. LL: No. There should be no reward for charity – it should be its own reward. PG: There is nothing like that idea of charity as its own reward in the Torah. If you do not do charity you will create dissonance in the community, you will incur guilt – or perhaps the devolution of society into revolution and chaos. With your few pounds of seed you are buying social peace. AF: This implies that the land is very rich and that everyone will be able to be charitable. HF: I reject the notion that only the very rich can be charitable. PG: In the rabbinic era this notion of charity and land all changes because the former Israelites no long have land – loans then become money. And the rise of the notion of interest. This is no longer charity. We have to think about the principles we want to preserve. LL: Our notion of what constitutes charity has changed. One can be charitable by giving to causes that focus on other than the poor.

Fixing Up Classroom #4

Spurred on by Alan Kaflowitz, a handful of Vassar Temple members showed up early on a Sunday morning to spruce up Classroom #4: removing the carpet, stripping the room, taping, painting, and more. This is going to look great when it’s done!

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